The images below are some artifacts for reflection on my first year of teaching 8th-grade Mathematics, and Common Core Algebra I. As this was the first year for Common Core at Middleton Middle School, and because the curriculum was not in place for the first few weeks of school, my first semester was a scramble to learn the gaps between individual students’ current abilities and the standards, and adapt the curriculum to suit them.
At the same time, I was learning all the teacher skills, such as classroom management, lesson planning, organization, discussion techniques and effective feedback. I put in a lot of 12-hour days and struggled with fears of failure.
What we found was that the curriculum seemed designed for more advanced students, as it presumed a lot of prior knowledge that students did not have, much of which they could not have had, because Common Core was not implemented before. I was trained to review the concept for the day, I do, you do, I do, you do, I do, you do, close and check for understanding.
The curriculum provided a lot of support for that model. Unfortunately, 85% of it was way over the students’ heads. It was not their fault. Their conceptual understanding averaged about a 4th-grade level. They had learned all the skills they needed to know each year, but most students had forgotten them, because none of those skills are meaningful to students.
As you can see, I have not highlighted any of those first days in my self-assessment of class successes. Instead, I have a few small projects and rich tasks that I integrated into the classroom, which finally activated students’ mathematical practices: to express their ideas to others, especially visually, to develop their own formulas and methods, to appreciate the methods of others and to collaborate in a shared exploration of patterns and mathematical ideas.
A good day toward the end of the school year went like this 1). We start class with a question we ended with the previous day, we display a few of the students ideas, and we continue mathematical achievements in groups, with me as the “guide on the side.” In the last five minutes, we stop to reflect on our work for the day and perhaps generate some extensions, questions that we could continue to discuss another day.
I wish more of my days were like that. However, the culture of the math classroom is a very difficult thing to change, even if class looks like this everyday. It’s especially hard to change the culture during the final third of the school year, in 8th grade.
So I am extremely excited to teach Middle School Math next year, and am using my summer to build skills in Project-Based Learning and Classroom Management, as well as some other group-oriented techniques such as the Jigsaw method and Group Participation Quizzes.
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